Best Pulse Oximeter of 2020
The Masimo MightySat unit delivers accurate health data quickly and consistently. The in-app storage effectively shows trends and averages for a multitude of health metrics. Anyone looking to garner a deeper understanding of their health will likely find the user-friendly layout helpful and informative. The MightySat is best used for spot-monitoring — the finger cradle is sticky enough to stay on during mild exercise but far too bulky to be considered for continuous monitoring during sleep or prolonged activity. This small and effective device measures SpO2 (blood oxygen saturation), pulse rate, perfusion index (PI), pleth variability index (PVi), and respirations per minute. We expected a lot based on this unit's price, and Masimo exceeded those expectations by monitoring far more data than all other oximeters in this review. When the device is paired with its app via Bluetooth, each bit of data is easy to read and monitor — there are even in-app pages that explain the benefits of tracking each data point. The data can be integrated into the basic health app on iPhone and Android devices, the battery life is clearly laid out with a battery graphic, and Masimo offers a 4-year warranty, which is extremely enticing on an item with such a hefty price tag.
As tech testers, we are willing to cough up a lot of cash for cutting-edge devices. Still, our biggest complaint with the MightySat is its huge price tag. And for the price, it's really a shame that this unit is battery operated. For such a savvy and well-designed product, we hoped it would include USB-charging capabilities. We also wish this device could be used beyond simply spot-monitoring. Those things aside, if you want the ability to track more of your health data than practically any other device like it, the MightySat is the best we've tested.
The iHealth Air Wireless is a comfortable device that offers a sleeker aesthetic than others while still providing consistently accurate health information. On the small device's screen, SpO2 and pulse rate are easy to read. When tethered to the app via Bluetooth, you can see your PI (perfusion index) as well. The iHealth-specific app is easy to navigate and understand, uploads data quickly, and can sync with the iPhone health app for an even more complete snapshot of your health. We love that this unit does not require batteries but instead boasts USB-charging capabilities. The durable engineering and general affordability only add to the appeal.
The iHealth really impressed us with its exceptional design, long-term tracking, data storage, and consistently reliable results. This device is for spot-monitoring only, making it unsuitable for use during high-intensity exercise or sleep, but if you don't need those capabilities, this is a more-than solid choice.
The Innovo Deluxe monitor is a no-frills approach to a long-lasting, reliable device. We appreciate the ease of using this monitor: unboxing, inserting batteries, and getting a reading of our SpO2, PI, and pulse rate took no time at all. It is made of more durable plastic than others we tested, earning it bonus points for those that desire daily spot-monitoring. The Innovo comes equipped with an auditory alarm that can alert the wearer if their pulse rate and oxygen saturation extend beyond the programmed limits. Thankfully, this alarm can also be muted.
The flip side of an overtly user-friendly unit is its simplicity. Some users might find the basic graphics and lack of tech to be sophomoric. But if all you need is the basics, the Innovo Deluxe gives you just that and nothing more. We still do not love a battery-operated device, but someone who isn't looking to learn a corresponding app will enjoy this basic pulse oximeter.
The MiBest OLED Finger Pulse is one of the most affordable pulse oximeters in our review. The sleek and stylish device is incredibly lightweight, comfortable, and functional. It offers a no-nonsense approach to collecting basic health data that is accessible and fast. Once two AAA batteries are installed, the screen comes to life and informs the user of their pulse rate and blood oxygen saturation by pressing the singular button. It even says, "Finger Out" when you remove your digit, enhancing this device's overall clear communication. The display brightness is customizable, and the finger bay can accommodate adult as well as child-sized fingers.
While the MiBest OLED is available at a nice price, it is one of the least fancy devices in our review. The other base model pulse oximeters we tested can test perfusion index (PI), which is valuable to those using their unit for more health-specific monitoring. The MiBest, however, does not offer a PI sensor. Anyone looking to dive deep into health data may find this to be a major shortcoming, so be sure to consider all your needs (and potential future needs) before making a decision.
If your device's versatility is important, the ViATOM Bluetooth Wrist Monitor is one to consider. Because it is a wrist monitor with a small and flexible connected finger loop, it can be used during both exercise and sleep for continuous monitoring. While many people just want to spot-monitor their pulse rate, this device can reliably be used for those wanting a more complete picture. The ViHealth app is not as easily navigated as others, but it is simple to learn and provides plenty of information. When setting up the app, you are instructed to choose SpO2 and pulse rate low points. If your data falls below these levels at any point while you're wearing the device, it vibrates to alert you. The vibration intensity is also customizable, which is great for those who need to use a pulse oximeter to monitor their oxygen while sleeping. And finally, the ViATOM is charged by USB, so the hassle of batteries is a non-issue.
The downsides to the ViATOM are few and, in our opinion, not deal-breakers. It has many small pieces, so unless you are ultra-organized, this monitor's multi-cable system might not be ideal. The finger loop is also one-size-fits-all, which may not accommodate all fingers. That said, our tests revealed that larger-fingered users can wear it on their pinky and still receive accurate results.
The Zacurate Pro Series 500 DL is an excellent spot-monitoring pulse oximeter for people on the go. It comes with a non-slip casing that protects it from wear and tear while also providing a solid grip. This device is simplistic, delivering accurate information and nothing more — its capabilities and features match its lower price tag. Anyone looking to spot-monitor their blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate will get what they need with the Zacurate — as well as above-average battery life!
We appreciate the reasonable price point of the Zacurate, but many devices in the same price range offer more than two metrics. This unit only measures pulse rate and SpO2; if that is all you're seeking, you'll find this oximeter to be perfectly agreeable. If you're data-obsessed, on the other hand, you may end up feeling a little let down.
The Santamedical Dual Color OLED delivers basic health information without overwhelming the user with extraneous data. Anyone looking to spot-monitor their pulse rate, oxygen saturation levels, and perfusion index without learning their way around new technology will likely appreciate this pulse oximeter. It accurately and reliably provides readings with the push of a button, and the data comes through quickly and clearly in under 10 seconds.
Due to the cheap-feeling plastic of the Santamedical, we do not think it is the right choice for someone who is prone to dropping things. After just a few uses, the screen and hinges on our model were showing slight signs of use. And, while not uncomfortable, this oximeter is noticeably less comfortable than others in our review. The cold plastic finger cradle doesn't have any give and is thus less suitable to accommodating different finger sizes.
The Wellue Bluetooth offers a user-friendly interface and rapid spot-monitoring. There are two versions of this device, and we opted for the one that has Bluetooth capabilities with the ViHealth app. The app is easy to sync, intuitive, and the information is laid out simply both within the app and on the unit itself. The app offers storage, which is incredibly helpful for anyone looking to collect data and spot trends. The Wellue also offers the option to enable a beeping sound when levels fall outside of your chosen parameters, but this setting is easy to disable as well if you'd prefer a silent device.
Unfortunately, the app only stores data when it is open, unlike the other Bluetooth options we tested. And, as mentioned above, we are less excited by battery-operated devices. Thankfully the Wellue at least includes batteries with your purchase, but we wish this device was rechargeable.
The HealthTree Bluetooth is well-priced with an app that's easy to navigate and chock full of helpful and informative data. It measures PI, SpO2, and heart rate, similar to its counterparts. The readings are accurate, rapid, and synced via Bluetooth, earning it some positive points.
While the HealthTree is fairly easy to set up, it is still more complicated and unintuitive than other Bluetooth oximeters in our test. Additionally, upon unboxing, our testers discovered that the battery cover on our device wouldn't stay closed due to bent tabs. Once a more forceful approach was taken, the battery tabs snapped off completely, leaving us with a broken case. We love a good deal as much as the next person, but certainly not at the expense of quality.
The Metene Fingertip is an affordable unit that measures only pulse rate and blood oxygen saturation, which is minimal but acceptable. However, the plastic is cheap-feeling, and the bright red display screen feels a bit antiquated. On top of that, once we installed the included AAA-batteries, we had to press the lone button repeatedly to prepare the unit. After four pushes, the unit beeped to notify us that it was ready for use. Every time we used the Metene monitor, we were surprised at how long a reading took to register. Each reading took 10-15 seconds to register and notified us with obnoxious and seemingly unending beeping. The beeping stops when you remove your finger, but the inability to silence the noise makes this device less user-friendly.
Our biggest disappointment with this option came during the course of testing for accuracy. The Metene supplied us with consistently lower data than the other oximeters we tested, which causes us to doubt its accuracy. Additionally, the monitor would give us one number and then a completely different one only moments later, further solidifying our assessment that this device is inconsistent and not as trustworthy as others in our review. Ultimately, we do not recommend the Metene if you are interested in accurate health data, though the issues we experienced may be isolated to the particular model we tested.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is headed up by Ally Meller, a long-distance runner who loves data and how it relates to health. She graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2010 with a Bachelor's degree in Exercise Physiology. Her hands-on experience in the exercise physiology lab make her perfect for reviewing items that fall into the intersection between tech and health. Ally has worked as a personal trainer and exercise specialist for many years and thus understands the science behind athletics. Many of her early working years were spent in a physical therapy environment, where she garnered much of her clinical-health knowledge.
After a ton of research, we rounded up 10 of the most popular pulse oximeters on the market, testing each one extensively. We employed these devices during personal training sessions, with immediate family, and, of course, with our testing team. We assessed accuracy, ease of use, versatility, features, and more to bring you a thorough snapshot of these useful devices.
Analysis and Test Results
We garnered data from many fingers, and even some toes, in an attempt to separate the outstanding pulse oximeters from the subpar. We took highly specified notes along the way to bring you detailed and helpful information. Below, we expand upon each of our testing metrics, outlining which models we found to be the best in each area.
Accuracy is a heavy-hitting metric in the world of home health gadgets. Why bother spending money on a device to track specified health information if it doesn't offer trustworthy readings? We systematically tested and recorded the data from each of our oximeters in a cyclical fashion, rotating through each device ten times on the same person and then taking the tests' average. With this figure in mind, we ranked the units based on consistency and how the results lined up with our average.
Small beams of light pass through the blood in the finger, measuring the amount of oxygen. It does this by measuring changes of light absorption in oxygenated or deoxygenated blood. This is a painless process.
Pulse oximeters work by sending infrared light into the capillary veins in your finger (or toe or ear, depending on the device) and then measuring the changes in how much light is absorbed in the blood. Each device we tested offers a +/-2% margin of error, and after extensive testing, we believe most of them to be consistent, though some still stand out. We found the Masimo MightySat and iHealth Air Wireless to be the most accurate and consistent in our review — both hit the average target number every single time. The ViATOM Bluetooth Wrist Monitor is equally accurate but leaves a higher margin for error as it might not fit every wrist and finger in the same way. However, during our testing, we found it to be just as accurate as the Masimo and iHealth units.
Ease of Use
Generally, pulse oximeters have easy-to-navigate and user-friendly interfaces. That said, we tested a variety of units that fall across a large spectrum from totally-tech oriented to superbly-simple. While not necessary, a basic understanding of the tech world can help with operating these devices, particularly those with Bluetooth capabilities or a companion app.
Basic models offer just a couple of data points, while fancier devices often provide more. To fully understand the data, you will need to familiarize yourself with some abbreviations:
- SpO2 is shorthand for oxygen saturation. SpO2 measures the amount of oxygen in your blood at a given time. It is measured as a percentage of the total oxygen (100%) that can be carried in the blood at one time.
- PR or HR stands for pulse rate and heart rate, respectively. These two abbreviations mean the same thing and describe how many times your heart beats every minute. Your PR will change based on your body position and activity level.
- PI or perfusion index describes how much blood is in non-pulsatile or peripheral tissues. A PI figure sheds light on the ratio of blood moving into tissues that do not have pulsatile blood flow.
- PVi is pleth variability index and measures the variability of the pleth (short for photoplethysmograph) waveform and the changes that occur during natural respiratory function. The pleth waveform indicates the strength of your pulse and perfusion.
- Brpm stands for breaths per minute or respiratory rate. It measures how many breath cycles you take every minute. This data can reflect how well your heart and lungs function in day to day movement or in recovery from exercise.
We started judging ease of use the moment we unboxed each unit, considering how quickly it tethered to our smartphones, how concise the prompts to input our information were, and how easy it was to get the final readings. As we tested, we looked at ease of use through the lens of an individual who has very little experience with technology. We chose to view pulse oximeters this way since we know a large percentage of consumers are older and may not be comfortable with complex devices.
If we remove Bluetooth tethering from the equation, the easiest unit to use is the MiBest OLED. From the moment we installed the batteries, this device was a breeze to use, being very user-friendly and accessible overall. On the Bluetooth side of things, we really appreciate how easy the iHealth and Masimo apps are to navigate. As soon as we downloaded and opened these apps, we were met with helpful prompts and tips for understanding the interface and the recorded health data, helping to make the data accessible and understandable.
The most simplistic of these devices are only intended for spot-monitoring blood oxygen and pulse rate. Still, we found that many models are comfortable and strong enough to cross over into more continuous uses. We tested this by stepping beyond the standard uses outlined in the directions, utilizing each unit throughout various scenarios. We used each pulse oximeter when seated, while lying down first thing in the morning, and out on gentle evening walks. Every monitor performed well in these relaxed scenarios, and we gained a lot of insight into each device's versatility.
Despite testing during the activities outlined above, only one pulse oximeter in our review is truly meant for a variety of settings. The ViATOM Bluetooth Wrist Monitor is a wearable device designed to be worn on the wrist and finger with the two parts connected by a cable. Because this unit can be attached and stay in place while moving about, it is absolutely the most versatile in our roundup. We were able to sleep and exercise incredibly well while wearing the ViATOM. As far as the more traditional devices go, the Zacurate Pro monitor is a fast-acting and lightweight device that is great for spot-monitoring on the go. We enjoyed keeping this in our pockets on hikes and fitness endeavors.
While pulse oximeters are typically for measuring blood oxygen saturation, quite a few popular models include more detailed information. The standard for a base-model pulse oximeter measures just blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate, though some of the most basic versions even include perfusion index (PI) figures. When we move beyond the scope of baseline models, many of these devices can measure other bodily metrics as well.
The Masimo MightySat offers the most comprehensive health data, especially when compared to the more simplistic machines we reviewed. This model measures SpO2, pulse rate, and PI on-screen, but delivers far more in the companion app. When tethered via Bluetooth and in use, the MightySat can access the metrics listed above, as well as breaths per minute and pleth variability (PVi). PVi is a numerical spectrum that ranges from 0-100 and measures the variability and dynamic changes that occur during breath cycles. PVi monitoring is most often used in medical settings but can be very useful for people trying to monitor respiratory ailments. We also really appreciate the features available in the iHealth Air Wireless app, which stores your data and can sync with the Health app on an iPhone.
Generally speaking, medical devices such as these are delicate tech pieces and should be treated as such. Throughout our limited testing process, we executed aggressive, hands-on testing in an attempt to simulate long-term use. We rolled these devices around on our fingers, tugged on the hinges, and looked closely at the battery door tabs. We are not particularly surprised to announce that the more costly the device, the more durable it tended to be.
The Innovo Deluxe iP900AP is a stand-out in this metric. Its battery door tabs and hinges are durably constructed, and the plastic is thicker than many of the other units in our review. We are pleased with how the screen absorbed inevitable scratches and wear, despite the occasional tumble onto the sidewalk while accompanying us on our outdoor runs. The pliable rubber of the ViATOM wearable is another robust option, as is the impressive construction of the iHealth and MightySat.
The quest for a pulse oximeter can feel challenging, complicated by scientific jargon and complicated abbreviations, but we are here to help. To pick the best monitor for your needs, we recommend first deciding when you'll use it. From there, you can determine which level of functionality and features are right for you. Once you receive your unit, take a few deep breaths, and watch as your pulse rate decreases with relaxation and the confidence of knowing you're being proactive about your health. Be well!
— Ally Meller